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To the season-ticket holders from Brian Sabean

Wonderful tongue-in-cheek write up by John Ryan at the Mercury News today regarding the letter sent by Giants general manager Brian Sabean to season-ticket holders. Saw this myself, sans the humor, and I’m thinking Sabes should’ve consulted Ryan before he wrote it. I would’ve have added only:

“Sincerely,

Brian R. Sabean

Senior Vice President and General Manager and Management Star of the Mitchell Report. 

Enjoy the laughs.

0

The Santana winners

Wanted to wait to blog on the Johan Santana trade into I talked to an  acquaintance of mine in the baseball industry. Three guesses as to what his initial assessment of the deal was?

1) Santana will dominate even more than he normally does, because National League hitters are unfamiliar with him, and Santana already owns hitters in the American League who have faced him. 2) Santana’s upside will be 25 wins. His downside will be 22 wins. 3) The Mets made this deal to win a World Series this year.

Well, duh. Isn’t that we’re all saying?

Then, this person told me something I wasn’t prepared to hear. He said the Twins may not have been fleeced as bad as you think. Seems that one of the pitchers Minnesota received in the deal is considered a can’t-miss stud. I am always skeptical when I hear such a thing, and the fact that Deolis Guerra is only 18 and hasn’t been above Single-A only adds to it. But I trust this person’s evaluation of talent, and he says that the Twins won’t be crying in a few years.

As for now, plenty of Minnesota fans will be angry, and perhaps they should be. But not because bringing back Santana would’ve enabled the Twins to contend. Minnesota was in a situation similar to the A’s in that they probably would’ve entered the campaign as the third- or fourth-best team in the division.

Instead, the reason for unhappiness among the Twins faithful should have to do with what the Twins could’ve had and what they wound up getting. As Buster Olney wrote on ESPN.com, this was probably the fourth-best deal they could’ve swung. In the end, they were enticed with offers for Yankees pitchers Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes and outfielder Melky Cabrera; Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and wound up with none of them. They’ll spend years wondering if they should’ve pulled the trigger on this deal back in the winter meetings.

Have some sympathy for new Twins general manager Mike Smith, however. It wouldn’t be easy for a veteran GM to navigate trade waters that include the Yankees and Red Sox potentially bidding against each other. For a rookie to be asked such a thing is not fair.

Then again, baseball is a lot like life, and nobody said life is fair.

Incidentally, the Mets will find a way to sign Santana to an extension. If they don’t, their GM Omar Minaya would have to go into hiding.

0

The Rocket’s Math

If you get a few minutes, amuse yourself by checking out the 1,800-word, 44-page report released by Roger Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks and two associates. First thought that hit me when I saw it: Who was the poor intern that got stuck with binding that thing together? Second thing: Where were these charts when I was failing geometry?

Seriously, though, this report doesn’t change a thing. I’d argue that it only makes Clemens look more guilty. As my geometry teacher once said — and I did ultimately pass that class — mathematics can prove almost anything, but common sense is called common sense for a reason.

Translation in this case: Most innocent men don’t go to such calculating tactics to prove their innocence, because they’re comfortable with the knowledge that they aren’t guilty. And let’s remember something very important here: Clemens is not on trial. So if truly doesn’t care what people think — and that has been the company line, hasn’t it? — then why is he investing so much energy to prove his point? As he told Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes,” it’s near impossible to prove a negative.

Clemens’ attempt to do so is not doing him much good.  In this lates entry into the affair, the charts are supposed to tell us that Clemens did not have any strange spikes in his career performance and that his career was not as astounding as the numbers might indicate.  But like everything in this case, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see video clips of Clemens pitching early in the 1998 season with Toronto side-by-side with clips of Clemens pitching later in the 1998 season.  I want to see what kind of life were on the Rocket’s pitches when he went 5-6 with a 3.50 ERA through the first two months, and what kind of life his pitches had when he went 15-0 with an ERA under two the rest of the way. By life, I mean natural movement — the kind you get from really being able to drive through the ball, and the kind that Clemens was lacking so much two years prior that he was forced to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays of all teams.

Brian McNamee supposedly injected Clemens right about the time Clemens’ 1998 season took off, so that’s why such video footage would be so helpful. Of course, we don’t see that in this report, because that could be damaging evidence for the Clemens camp. Imagine seeing the ball pushed from Clemens’ hand early in 1998, and then imagine it exploding from his hand after the dates McNamee allegedly injected him. I’m guessing Team Roger wouldn’t have a set answer for that one.

The point is, and I’ve said this before, is that Clemens should shut his mouth, and his “team” should fade to the back. As Clemens himself seemed to say on “60 Minutes,” it’s rather impossible to prove a negative. The more his camp tries to prove it, the more they make him look guilty (which, by the way, I think he is. I often wonder if Clemens did shoot up with PED’s and has now lied about it so often that he believes his lies. But that pathological issue is a subject for a psychiatrist, not me).

In the meantime, the game will go on without him. And as he fades from the spotlight, the questions will go to his children, which if you think about it is probably the saddest part of this story. Clemens, on the other hand, told us he couldn’t wait to be out of the public sector, so he could be left alone. Thus, it sure seems sinister that he’s spending so much energy making sure his name stays in the spotlight.

4

A’s Fan Fest Weekend

A few thoughts on the A’s Fan Fest, which basically marks the first official weekend of the 2008 season.

— So Jack Cust denied he used steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs. What else did you expect him to say? Baseball players have been borrowing variations from the “I didn’t juice,” handbook for years now, and Cust’s explanation was typical. Look, I like the guy as much as anybody on the A’s, and it was impossible not to get caught up in parts of his 2007 season, but like I’ve written so many times in the past, it’s impossible to believe anything a player says these days. Cust may well be telling the truth, but a player’s benefit of the doubt is a thing of the past.

— Regarding Cust’s explanation, it is interesting that we haven’t heard from one-time Baltimore Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie in a while (looks like he’ll be playing in Japan this year). It is entirely possible, I suppose, that Bigbie was mistaken when he said he lockered next to Jack Cust during their Baltimore days. Or, it’s possible that maybe they were one or two cubicles down from each other, and Bigbie simply used the phrase “next to” in a general way. Again, that’s the problem with all the silence and all the lies. Getting to the truth is like trying to snag a foul ball amidst a crowd of 50,000 people.

—- Here’s why MLB.com is more a public relations tool than a journalistic site: The headline on their Sunday afternoon story was: “A’s annual FanFest a Big Hit.” Funny, only 12,000 people attended, the smallest ever for a FanFest at the Coliseum in the seven seasons they’ve had it there. First time ever below 20,000. I realize MLB.com is the way a majority of fans get their information, and there are great things about that site, but don’t ever mistake it as a bastion of journalism.

—- The story on the site pointed to the 35,000 single-game tickets the A’s sold on Saturday. I’m guessing that’s not going to push them over the 2-million mark when it’s all said and done.

—  Good to hear that the A’s are going to pour more money into scouting and developing, and that they may go higher with their signing bonuses for high draft picks. Don’t think for a minute that getting a Top 5 pick wasn’t on the “pro” side when general manager Billy Beane drew up his pros and cons for rebuilding.

— Finally, very ingriguing column recently by Ray Ratto regarding a possible punishment for the Giants, given their noteworthiness in the Mitchell Report. I believe Ray is right in saying that granting the A’s the rights to Santa Clara County would be the only punishment that would truly fit the crime. I don’t imagine any such thing would ever happen, though, even though A’s owner Lew Wolff goes back such a long way with commissioner Bud Selig. MLB never does anything that sensible.

1

Bob Geren speaks

Denial is a very interesting thing.

If there was one thing that struck me more than any other during the A’s annual media luncheon this afternoon, it was that. The A’s always kick off 2008 by stuffing the scribes and trotting out the manager for a Q-and-A session, and it’s always interesting to hear what the skipper thinks. And after all of five minutes, I was left wondering, “What is he thinking?”

Here’s what he was saying:

On the perception the rebuilding A’s may struggle (OK, stink): “The perception is not accurate. We’re going to try to win every game.”

On the expectations created (OK, devalued) with the trades of Nick Swisher and Dan Haren: “I don’t feel like just because we traded a couple of our players that it’s going to make that much of a difference.”

Like I said, denial is an interesting thing.

Now, I understand that Geren shouldn’t be condemned for airing feelings that go so far against the conventional wisdom. More power to him, in fact.

That said, it is fair to wonder if has a true grasp of what’s happened this winter. The reasons Billy Beane gave for making the trades that robbed Geren of his staff ace and his second-most productive hitter were that 1) he didn’t feel like this team could win enough if returned in tact and 2) he wanted to get younger and restock the farm system.  Given that reasoning, you’d hope Geren would realize it enough to separate what’s best for the future with what’s best for the present.

Example: A young pitcher (say Gio Gonzalez), gets lit up early in a start during April. Does Geren stick with him to see how the starter handles such a thing at the expense of trying to win that game, or does he yank him early? Or say, Daric Barton goes into a titanic slump in May? Does Geren give him at-bats in clutch situations with a game on the line, or does he pinch-hit for him? And if it’s the latter, what kind of message does it send?

Anyway, these kind of questions will iron themselves out once the season begins, but it will be worth following. Geren must maintain his credibility in the A’s clubhouse after a 2007 campaign in which he struggled to do so, and a few silly moves could cause him to lose the respect of the few veterans who remain.

Meantime, here are some of the other things Geren said during the luncheon:

— Joe Blanton and Rich Harden will be the first two starters in Japan. Of course, this is dependent on both of them still being on the roster come the season-opener.

— He will emphasize winning in spring training, because he doesn’t want all the talk about rebuilding to leave a message that the A’s shouldn’t try to win. That’s kind of a tweak on his above quote and seems reasonable.

— Third baseman Eric Chavez has started baseball activities and has “absolutely no set-backs” from three offseason surgeries.

— Justin Duchscherer is “going to have to prove” he belongs in the starting rotation. Duchscherer, who had hip surgery last season, reportedly has had no set-backs.

— Dana Eveland, one of six players acquired from Arizona in the Haren deal, has a motion and stuff comparable to David Wells. Let’s hope he won’t have that body shape, either.

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A Giant nothing

A few baseball thoughts while lamenting how the Chargers upset try against the Patriots in the AFC title game was Norv’d (terrible play-calling inside the 10-yard line) , and wondering what happened to the Packers’ Brett Favre in the second half vs. the Giants.

— Slightly less than a month until the Giants report for spring training, and Aaron Rowand remains their only major move. How disappointing is that? Obviously, the Giants will be laying a lot on the line with their dynamite starting staff, but Rowand (while a great clubhouse addition) is not a panacea for the offense. The Giants may be trying to position themselves to win a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games, but if no more moves are made, they’ll find themselves losing more games by those scores than they win.

— The A’s signings of Huston Street and Joe Blanton to one-year deals last week mean nothing in terms of their long-term future in Oakland. But the hunch here is that both will start the season and that both could stick around for a rebuilding effort if the A’s perform better than expected in 2008. We’ll know where they are by the trading deadline, when Blanton, in particular, could really net a lot.

— Had an hour-long conversation with an A’s executive last week, and what I can reveal is that one very interesting question was raised. Of all the A’s who have departed as free agents or been traded since Jason Giambi walked away in 2001, which one or two would you still like to have in 2008? My somewhat-lame answer was Miguel Tejada, but you know what, right now, today, I wouldn’t want him. He’s going to make $18 million this season, he’s lost a ton of range at shortstop, and his best days as a hitter are behind him. Still, I would’ve loved to have seen what the A’s could’ve done in 2004, ’05 and ’06 had they signed Tejada to an extension.

— On that subject, the A’s are promoting their annual FanFest hard, with the key attraction being a tour of the team’s clubhouse. Can just hear it now: “This is where Nick Swisher used to locker. This is where Dan Haren used to locker. This is where Miguel Tejada injected steroids ….”

— On the steroids topic, the back-and-forth between the camps of Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee keeps getting more and more interesting. Can’t wait to find out which one purges himself in front of Congress on Feb. 16. Then again, anybody think Clemens is actually going to show up?

— Meantime, it seems as if Andy Pettitte is doing some spin control of his own, regarding his friendship with Roger Clemens.

Finally, a Super Bowl prediction, because it’s never too early:

Patriots 52, Giants 10. 

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The Congressional Hearings

Lots to discuss from today’s Congressional hearings starring Bud Selig, Donald Fehr and George Mitchell. Now that the home Internet service is back up, let’s get to them.

— So, the Giants should’ve responded to former trainer Stan Conte’s concerns that Greg Anderson was bringing steroids into the clubhouse? Gee, never would’ve guessed. Look, the actual news that Congress was mighty unpleased with how general manager Brian Sabean and owner Peter Magowan reacted shouldn’t really be news at all. The newsy thing is that grown men, with supposedly solid upbringings, could just thumb their nose at ethics. Then again, that really isn’t news, because a) professional sports has been about gaining an edge, and b) the more money your corporation attains, the easier it is to assume that accountability will never come back to you. There’s been many a Congressman (and Presidents) who operated under the same assumption.

— Or, to put it another way: What were the Giants going to do? Bonds was their meal ticket. Say your workplace had an employee so good at what he/she did that no matter his/her personal conduct, the company was rolling in green? Hard to believe the company CEO and the other employees wouldn’t look the other way.

— Miguel Tejda, step right up, you’re the next competitor in the “Amazing Disgraced.” Congress is going to investigate Tejada for perjury, which means it’s probably only a matter of time until he’s forced to confess or stage questionable interviews on “60 Minutes.”

— Speaking of Tejada, it’s now official. A’s fans should’ve stopped watching after the great 1970′s run. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, charter members of the “Amazing Disgraced,” have permanently stained the great teams of the late 1980s (thank goodness those teams were defined much, much more by the classy Dave Stewart than by the Bash Brothers), and now some of the greatest moments of the 20-game winning streak are questionable, too.

— Here’s the amazing thing about Bud Selig and Donald Fehr. The more they spill the rhetoric about wishing they’d known something sooner, and agonizing that they didn’t do more and pledging to be more vigilant in the future, the more you get the feeling that if presented with the exact same set of circumstances again, both would respond the exact same way.

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Talkin’ NFL while waiting for a Kotsay trade

Anybody mind if I take a detour from the usual fare this morning? After all, talking football after the NFL’s divisional round is a heckuva lot more appealing than anything baseball has to offer right now. I mean, the A’s are bracing to trade Mark Kotsay (big whoop!) to the Atlanta Braves (it should happen today); Roger Clemens’ lawyers are lawyering (a tired story already), and Johan Santana is still a Twin (can’t they get a move-on with that deal).

Anyway, the point is, baseball is a feeling a bit tired. I’ll get back to blogging about the grand ol’ game as the week goes on, but right now, what’s standing out the most to me from the weekend was the press conference held by Terrell Owens after the Cowboys bit the bullet against the New York Giants on Sunday.

If you saw the clips of T.O. or read some of the accounts, then you’re aware that the former 49ers wide receiver let loose a flood of tears in front of reporters.

The question: Was it an act?

I didn’t see it as such. Now I know I’m not nearly as up-to-speed on the personalities in that league as I am in baseball, but it seems to me that Owens did a lot of growing up this season. He rarely griped about himself. There were no off-the-field theatrics. And he didn’t throw any teammates under the bus.

In short, he seemed to grow up. At no point, did the Cowboys’ season revolve around what T.O. was doing, and at no point, did T.O. take steps to make sure it would. Should give faith to the cynical — and I’m in that camp more than most — that athletes can change their stripes. Took T.O. longer than most to realize that the less he draws attention to himself, the better it works out for everybody, including himself. But at least he seemed finally to figure it out.

Listen to the various talk shows this morning driving to the office, and I was surprised to hear how many people thought it was a premeditated stunt on Owens’ part, and that all he was showing were crocodile tears? Wonder how many of those were 49ers fans?

Anyway, figured it’d be an interesting place to start the discussion this morning while we waited for the Kotsay deal to come down. Tell me what you think.

2

Selling the A’s

Calm down, A’s fans. Lew Wolff and John Fisher have not decided to part ways with their baseball franchise. They haven’t decided to fund it with Fisher’s billions, either, but that’s another story.

No, what I refer to in the headline is the challenge the A’s face in selling tickets for their rebuilding team. The trades of Dan Haren and Nick Swisher have resulted in quite a bit of discontent from the green and gold faithful, so the prospect of a desolate Oakland Mausoleum is great.

The A’s have come up with one interesting idea, however. They will open up three sections in the upper deck, and for $35, fans can purchase a game ticket and unlimited all-you-can-eat items.

According to the release on the A’s Web site, fans can select two food items plus a soda each time they pass through line. Not a bad deal for the price of leaving your car in an AT&T Park parking lot.

Gotta wonder though. Where’s the free beer? That would certainly result in a greater number of fans. If fans are willing to come out and watch what promises to be such a wretched team, they ought to get a pair of beers for their effort, don’t you think?

0

Goooooose

Hall of Fame day in baseball, which means only this: Barely a handful of questions will be asked to the honorees before the subject of performance-enhancing drugs will be brought up. Such are the times in which we live.

In 2008, there was only one electee by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and Rich “Goose” Gossage was more than gracious when, after only three questions, the inevitable came up. That’s not surprising: Goose is one of the best people in the game to deal with.

Would’ve loved to have heard Jim Rice’s response to such questions (Goose was asked if he had any advice for the voting members of the BBWAA in how they should determine who from the Steroid Era deserves votes), but the Red Sox legend was 16 votes short. He’s got one more year left on the ballot.

I have not served on the BBWAA long enough to earn a Hall of Fame vote —- you must have 10 uninterrupted seasons as a member, and I need four more —- so to critique the the final results as to whether they were right or wrong would be unfair, in my opinion. It’s an imperfect process for an imperfect place, and it’s worked pretty well since before I was hanging out in my mother’s tummy. So I’ll say what I say every year; the voters got it right.

Here are some of my individual thoughts on some of the players on the ballot:

—- Gossage: It’s about time.

—- Rice: His numbers become less impressive when juxtaposed against those of the Steroid Era, but he was a dominant force in his day, and his 1978 season was one of the most impressive you’ll ever see. He also was legendary for treating members of the media as if they were sub-human, and that could be coming back to hurt him now. 

Andre Dawson: I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think Hall of Famer when I think of Andre Dawson. Maybe because he played a lot of his career in Montreal, and perhaps because some of his best seasons for the Cubs came when Chicago was losing.

Bert Blyleven: Played on so many lousy teams that his won-loss record suffered, and that may forever be his Achillies’ heel. In my eyes, he was never the dominant starter on his own staff, and that’s more telling than his 3,701 strikeouts.

Lee Smith: He received 231 fewer votes than Goose, which is startling when you compare Smith’s career with Gossage’s. Goose gets Smith in most categories, but not by much.

Jack Morris: He received only 42.9 percent of the vote, so he’s got an uphill climb. For my money, no pitcher in the 1980s or early 1990s was better in a big game, and that should be worthy of something.

Mark McGwire: His 128 votes were the same as he received a year ago. Apparently, all we’ve learned about the Steroid Era in the past 365 days didn’t sway voters one way or the other.